Monday, August 4, 2014

When Spaghetti is Worse Than Missing Dessert

I must have done something terribly wrong* for parenting karma to bite me like this.

My kids have stopped liking spaghetti.  From the day we met, up until about three weeks ago, one way to achieve harmony in our household was to put some noodles in water, some sauce and meat in a pan, and with very little effort, feed all of us.  But now, spaghetti is rejected.

By both of them.  At the same time.  My daughter, who lives for salad bars, so she can load up her plate with beets.  My son, who dances in the grocery aisle in his attempts to convey to me his enthusiasm for sardines.

They sit and look sadly at their plates of spaghetti.  The look in their eyes is much like what mine would be if I were offered a sardine and beet stew.

"I don't really want dessert tonight, Mom," sighs Linden, listlessly pushing the noodles across her plate.  This is code for "I'm refusing to eat what I'm served."  The understanding is that if you eat a reasonable amount of all of your dinner, you will be invited to dessert.

"I'm still full from those apples and peanut butter, Mom," says Oak diplomatically.

"The ones you had at 11:00 this morning?" I ask.

"Um.  Yeah.  I don't really feel like dessert tonight either."

"Fine," I reply.  "But in an hour and a half from now, when we're getting ready for bed, I don't want to hear that you are suddenly starving."

"Deal!" he exclaims.  "And if I do...I owe you a half hour of work around the house!"

Sounds like a win-win to me.  Except for the small matter of the ginormous bowl of spaghetti I put back in the fridge.  I am not going to serve it to them for breakfast and lunch tomorrow, but I am serving it for dinner tomorrow night.  I can only hope that either hunger wins out, or diplomacy continues to reign.

*Well, I guess I've been honest enough on here that we all know I have screwed up badly more than a few times.  I deserve worse than this.  But who wants what they deserve?


Sunday, August 3, 2014

"I Am Not Needy; I Am Wanty."

"Guess what?"

Our seven year old neighbor is dancing with excitement on our front doorstep.  Linden and I are chatting with her for a few minutes before we have to run an errand.  The girls have already arranged to have a tea party when we get back.

She can't even wait for us to ask.  "I'm taking the first test towards getting my quad license today!"

I ask her what that involves.  "Reading a chapter book and answering 2 questions.  Or maybe 11."  This sounds more like AR than the DMV, but I know nothing about quads.  Maybe this is her family's personal licensing system.  Still, I know what is coming next.

"Lucky!" Linden says this with that jealous punch that drags the word out.  She slides her eyes up towards me.  "It's not fair.  You guys have more money than us."

I fall back on the hoariest of chestnuts.  "Life's not fair, sweetpea, and you know that."

"That's what my sister always says!" exclaims our guest.

"All of us on this street are very lucky compared to many people in the world," I add.  Sanctimonious, but true.  The girls get side tracked into a conversation about who has more dogs in their family.  We leave for our errand.

We do seem to be the poorest and/or cheapest of our kids' friends' families.  The neighbors have an RV, four quads, a trampoline, and an above ground pool.  Linden's friend has three American Girl dolls, countless stuffies, and an endless array of new clothes.  They take gymnastics and horse riding lessons, and the family heads off on vacations every month or so.  This is typical of the kids they play with, and most of our adult friends as well.  None of us are fabulously wealthy--our social circle sits firmly in the 99%, as far as American wealth goes--but, according to the above infographic, we are also in the top 8% worldwide.

My kids used to live in a garage.

Their birth mom is homeless.


I haven't even mentioned Oak yet, but he is a bottomless pit of Wanting More Stuff.  He was fostered in two different Italian families three years ago--an adoption trial masquerading as a summer exchange--and he talks about it often, compared to how much he talks about the rest of his past.  It must have been a confusing time, being told to call first one pair of people Mama and Papa, then, when he seemed too rowdy to them and was passed on to a younger couple, being told that now THESE people would be Mama and Papa.  Then, at the end of the summer, back to the orphanage after all.

When he talks about it, he talks about the toys they bought him, toys he had to leave behind.  Legos, train sets, bikes, remote control cars, DVDs, video games... he describes a sort of Lost Boys wonderland of eating sweets and chips all day, playing video games without limit, and an endless supply of newer and better toys.  Whenever I ask him about the people, he becomes vague.  There might have been a brother or two in one family.  A grandma who let them watch movies all morning.  He doesn't remember the parents, and doesn't care to, but he is still angry about the loss of all those toys.  Life OWES him those toys.

(Yes, I get that this is displacement on his part, and that Stuff is less likely to hurt you than People are.)

I don't blame them.  Even besides the fact that it really is time for life to be unfair in their favor, I too tend to wander the shore of the endless sea of wanting more.  I am happy in my life, glad I earn enough to support my family, and that the Winemaker earns enough to support his winemaking.  I have everything I need and more.  But I have senseless wants, and I must battle my envy, just like my kids do.  I bought two new dresses this summer; my colleague bought a dozen.  We took a day trip to the beach; a friend's family rented a cabin for a week.  I tell myself that it's ridiculous that our family of four has to cram into a 2 door Civic, that my husband's allergies would improve if we replaced the carpets with wood, or even Pergo.  I try to explain to my son that getting this new toy will not actually make him happy, then I find myself wandering Target, thinking, 'Oh, I NEED that!" about objects I never would have considered if I'd just stayed home.  Or gone hiking.  Or read a book.


As Linden and I drove off on our errand, we passed the Oregon Food Bank headquarters on our street.  I remembered the time we saw a beggar as we exited the grocery store parking lot, and she asked if we could invite him home to sleep at our house.  "Let's sign up to help out at the food bank," I told her.  "I get why you sometimes feel jealous that your friends have things you don't, but we actually have a lot."

She started listing things we have--a house, cars, enough food always.  "So we should give some food to people who don't have any!"

I told her that, according to our paperwork, she herself once lived in a garage.

"I don't remember that," she said.  "That makes me sad."

It makes me sad too.  And angry.  And confused.  And embarrassed, that I, who have never lacked a safe place to sleep, am envious of those who have a few more toys than I do.  So I will sign us up to help sort food, and I will continue to limit my trips to Target, and be inspired by the Winemaker's thriftiness and self sufficiency.  I will not shame my kids for wishing they had more, nor try to create guilt for having so much when others have so little, but I will try to model mindfulness and gratitude.  I will force myself to have the uncomfortable conversations about their past, to tie together their history and their current life, and to help them see that just as they are the same person now they were then, that those who have less than us (or more than us) are no less human for that.
: )

Monday, July 21, 2014

Country and Jazz

My Summer of New started off strong, then, predictably, began to falter.  Luckily, when it was novel and fresh and exciting, I'd made myself a little list of ideas, so when I noticed I was really having to reach to come up with a new thing to record at the end of the day ("My kid learned how to dive!  Wait, that's not my new thing.  I watched a movie I'd never seen before!  Yes, and...?), I used the list to get me going again.

Today was the day I listened to not-my-radio-station all day long.  Well, when I was in the car, which is the only time I listen to the radio.  The kids started a day camp across town, which very conveniently starts AND ends at the height of rush hour, so it was a couple of hours of drive time musical novelty.

The buttons in my car are programmed to:
  1. Adult contemporary (Bob Marley to The Lumineers to Ray LaMontage to Sheryl Crow)
  2. Alternative
I mostly switch back and forth between those two channels when ads come on, but sometimes I use the other buttons, which are, more or less in order of preference:

    3.  Classical music
    4.  the 80s station
    5. NPR
    6.  classic rock

So today, I programmed the second menu of buttons to the following:

    1.  Christian music
    2.  Jazz
    3.  the Spanish station
    4.  hip-hop
    5.  country
    6. top 40

Here's what I noticed:
  • Both the hip-hop station and the top 40 station played "Fancy."  My only previous exposure to the song was when Jimmy Fallon lip synched to it.  I had just read this article by Brittney Cooper describing how Iggy, a white Australian, has co-opted black culture with this song, so I was both interested and slightly repulsed.  Also, I can't get it out of my head.  
  • When I switched to the jazz station, I immediately wanted to switch away.  Jazz is so...twitchy.  Not enough melody.  I was grumbling to myself, 'It's like the clarinet and the piano are playing two different songs that happen to have the same beat."  Then I started counting the beat in my head, and suddenly it started making more sense to me.  I wound up listening to two more songs before an ad came on.  It's still not my cup of tea, but I bet it's fun to see live.
  • The Christian station was boring.  Sorry, but it was.  
  • I liked the music on the Spanish station--all that accordion music always reminds me of Eastern European songs--but the DJs were really shrieky.  
  • So were the hip-hop DJs.  
  • Top 40 was only slightly less dull than the Christian station.
  • Surprise of the day--I was kind of digging the country station.  I'm not sure why they have to sing with a twang--in rock and pop, you can't tell if a singer is American, Swedish. British, or what, so don't tell me they're not intentionally twanging--but I am a sucker for story songs.  There were several that were okay, and one I came home and looked up.  Luke Bryan's "Play it Again."   I think I've heard his name, but I don't know any of his music.  
This was fun.  At first I had to remind myself not to switch away from the stations, but by the afternoon I would listen to several songs in a row, switching stations at ad breaks, like I normally do.  My listening to unfamiliar stations all day doesn't do any good for the world, but it was definitely a "break out of my rut" day.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A New High, which is actually a New Low

I grew up thin without thinking about it.  I thought diets were dumb, and girls who obsessed about their exercise program were boring.  My best friend was prettier and more socially skilled than I, but when we stood side by side examining ourselves in the mirror (that's not weird, right?), she would sigh, "Your thighs are so thin."  I was extremely pleased with this.  (It took me years to realize that we didn't have the healthiest of friendships.)

When I started swim team my sophomore year in high school, my mom took me aside after the first month and informed me that I had 3 weeks to put 5 pounds back on, or she'd take me off the team.  Anorexia was "new" then, and I'm sure when she read about all these middle class white girls who felt like they had to be perfect, she worried about me.

I chuckled then, and I chuckle now.  I also started eating donuts after practice.  I have many hang-ups and unhealthy habits, but starving myself will never be one of them.  

The summer after college, I was on a beach in Cornwall, and realized that my stomach was not perfectly flat.  It rounded (every so slightly) over my bikini bottom.  I was mortified.  Not enough to DO anything about it, but still.  My days of eating whatever I wanted and being slim anyway were clearly numbered.

I was still thin.  I stayed a size 10 (at 5'7") until my mid-thirties.  I have never been athletic (swim team was a delightful two year aberration), but in my thirties I started hiking a lot more, and even climbed a few non-technical mountains.  I was heavier than I'd been in my twenties, but also stronger and with more stamina, so I didn't care.  By 35 I'd grown out of my size 10 clothes, and accepted that I was now a size 12.

My husband and I spent a year in Riga, Latvia, walking everywhere.  Despite indulging freely in the local pastries and readily available Scandinavian chocolates--Daim bars!  Marabou!  Dumle!--I lost 20 pounds.  I was still a size 12, but my pants tended to hang off my hips, clothes that had been tight were now loose, and I crudely took in a few skirts by folding the waistband over an inch and sewing it down.  Then we came home, and I put the weight back on.  Then I lost a chunk of it.  Then my mom died, and I put some back on.  Then we adopted, and I lost some again, chasing after kids and playing tag.  Through all of this, I was still a size 12.

This year, however, I started to put on some more weight.  Clothes became uncomfortable.  I popped the (riveted!) button off my favorite pair of jeans.  I started noticing lines on my skin when I took my clothes off at the end of the day.  I began to favor knits and anything with an elastic waistband.  As spring rolled into summer, I decided that since I would be more active in the summer, I should not buy any new clothes in size 14.  That way, I wisely figured, I'd be even more inspired to lose the weight, so my clothes would be comfortable once more.

Then the hot spell hit. Day after day it's been in the 90s.  I live in western Oregon, we don't have air conditioning, and this is HOT.  I pulled out my shorts the other day and couldn't even get them past my thighs.  I have plenty of elastic waisted skirts, but the day I found myself picking raspberries in a skirt, I decided I may as well buy a cheap pair of shorts.  Goodwill, so I wouldn't be straining resources because of my temporary flirtation with chubbiness.

Today I grabbed two grocery bags of donations, made special dispensation for the kids to have extra computer time, and headed off by myself to find a pair of shorts that fit.  I steered myself towards the "Large" section, then realized it went up to size 12.  Extra large?  Really?  I pulled some 14s and the occasional 16 off the rack, and headed to the dressing room.

14's, like my size 12 shorts, couldn't force their way past my thighs.  16s could, but  pushed rudely against my skin when I (breath held) zipped them up.  The first pair of capris I tried on that were comfortable were size 18.

Size 18.  X-Large.  "Women's" section of the store.

I have friends who would kill to get down to a size 18.  I have a coworker who is on a crazy diet where for 3 out of every 4 weeks she is on 500 calories a day, and she has gone from over 300 pounds to 200 in the same amount of time I've put on 40 pounds.  One of my dearest, oldest friends, who has faced more shit in her lifetime than anyone ever should have to, is trying to do the same thing in a more measured, sustainable fashion.  I can still fit in a regular seat, still find clothes at a regular store.


This flies in the face of my self image.

Which is interesting, because the rage my children call up in me also flies in the face of my self image.

And here's the thing:

If I were to gain another 3 sizes next year, but finally master the Scary Mean Mommy in me, I would be so happy and proud and relieved and self confident.

But if I were to get back to a size 12, and continue to have periodic bouts of insane, borderline abusive parenting, I might feel less shame.

Because people don't know what happens in my house.  But they sure as hell can tell the difference between a woman who has "let herself go" and one who "takes good care of herself."

And that's kind of fucked up.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Casual Saturday

It's got to be a seriously hot day in Oregon before this Mama goes commando.

Just sayin'.

Friday, July 11, 2014


The kids were eager to hit the pool.  I didn't mind driving them across town to the pool with a slide and diving board, because the only good day Oak had during the week he spent at the rec center day camp was the day he (astoundingly) passed the swim test and got to go off the diving board.  His crawl stroke is mostly thrashing around, and he takes on so much water that he can't make it far.  But he had somehow managed 25 yards of it, plus a return lap on his back, and couldn't stop smiling all evening.  I wanted to see it for myself. 

As soon as we got in, he found a lifeguard to watch him.  It was Open Swim, so the pool was crowded, and the lane lines were set up perpendicularly across the route he was supposed to swim.  I heard another kid ask if they were allowed to dog paddle, and the lifeguard said nope, you had to get your arms out of the water.  I wondered if he'd be able to make it again.  Oh ye of little faith.  He killed it.  KILLED IT.  Even more exciting, his eyes sought mine across the mass of bodies--he wanted Mama to witness his success.  I clapped above my head, and we both beamed. 

He joined the group in line at the diving board, and after watching the first few leaps, I was able to focus on Linden.  She had totally forgotten her swim lessons, and kept sinking when she tried to steamboat.   We played and bounced, and after I demonstrated what she was doing, she figured out how to correct it.  We took lots of breaks to go down the slide, bob under water, watch her brother cannonball off the diving board, etc.  I went over once to go off the diving board.  Thinking of my summer of firsts, I jumped high instead of quietly stepping off as usual.  I plunged to the very bottom of the 12 foot pool, and felt a bit panicky as I paddled back up for air.  That was enough of that. 

But after an hour, the lifeguards congregated at the deep end and put the diving boards up.  Could it be?  Yes!  They were lowering the rope.  A simple rope, with two knots in it, held up by a quite complex system of pulleys and cords.  THIS would truly be a first.  I got in line behind two twenty-something Spanish speaking ladies.  We exchanged grins, noticing that the rest of the line was in the 9-12 age range.  Oak twisted around and made amazed faces at me.  I was focused on watching others' technique.  Grab onto the rope above the first knot.  Rest feet against lower knot.  Drop at the high point of the swing.  I worried about my ability to get my feet in the right place, but also about my ability to hold myself up by just my arms.  A few people dropped unceremoniously into the pool at the low point in their arc because of that issue.  My son and mi amigas did great. 

Then it was my turn to stand on the deck.  The lifeguard used his shephard's hook to bring the rope to me.  I grasped it firmly above the knot, then jumped.  My feet didn't hit the lower knot, but it turned out to be easy to rest them against the rope for extra support.  I swung out over the water, then dropped into it.  Splash!  I came up laughing. 

I took two more turns, much to Oaks' chagrin.  "Mom, why do you keep getting in line?!?"  he said to me, half laughing, half whining. 

"Because it's FUN!"  I told him.  "You can pretend you don't know me...oh wait, too late!"  I laughed again. 

The first two times, my focus was on holding on to the rope, then letting go at the right time.  The third time I was comfortable enough to actually pay attention to the swinging part, watching the world (or at least the rec pool portion of the world) swoop by.  I was giddy with delight, but Linden was getting tired of entertaining herself, so I went back to her.

The end of Open Swim drew near.  I decided to take one more swing on the rope.  This time I landed funny, and felt a familiar jolt of pain in my neck.  I got to the side and tried to look casual as I scooted along the edge to the ladder.  I have enough trouble hauling myself over the side of a pool when I'm not in pain.  I even went down the slide with Linden one more time before we headed to the showers.  But hair washing was hard, and that night I had trouble sleeping because I couldn't turn over without waking up and manually turning my head. 

Still.  The neck ache healed in another day or so.  The memory of flying through the air remains, as does my pride in the delightful mix of embarrassment and awe my antics caused my pre-teen.  I'm less than a month in, but I know this is one of the highlights of my Summer of New.

What is something silly you've tried lately?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dinner Alone

Today's new adventure was unplanned.

It was a fairly typical summer day.  The kids and I woke up on the back porch.  We don't have AC for the same reason we don't have a snowplow attachment on our pickup--the weather here requires such things so rarely that when we do get extreme heat or snow, it's exciting and new, and we just enjoy it.  I made breakfast.  I supervised some chores.  I told my dozing husband that I was taking the kids to therapy.  While one kid worked on their crap with our therapist, I took the other across the street to the French bakery for a treat and some summer workbook time.  When I switched kids, we got so caught up in the treat and workbook that we suddenly had the other kid and our therapist standing next to our table.  "Ack!" I sputtered, glancing at the clock behind me.  Yep, we were late.

"It's okay!" she assured me.  "Linden knew you guys would be here, and she wanted to come on her own, but I told her I'd come with her."

I took them to the mall--a first in itself, now that I think of it--where we picked up some supplies at the teacher/homeschool store and window shopped at the Lego Store and Build-a-Bear.  We talked about saving up our allowances for Legos (Oak), a stuffed pony (Linden) and yard darts (me--they're not as deadly as the yard darts of my youth, but I still want them).  We ran another errand, then headed home, where I made everyone lunch.  We got out the new watercolor pencils and started drawing.  After nearly two blissful hours of near-harmony, I sent them out to wash the car.  I knew this wouldn't be the most environmental or economical carwash ever, much less the most thorough, but our car couldn't possibly look worse, and the kids love anything that blends water play and work--have fun AND feel virtuous?  What's not to love?

While they were occupied, I got to work on a long-neglected pile of dishes.

Those done, I headed upstairs and settled into the comfy chair in my bedroom with my laptop and the book I'm reading.  Before I'd quite figured out which I'd focus on, the Winemaker entered.  World Cup matches done for the day, he was ready to get to work on power washing the deck.  "Can you help me move the patio furniture?" he asked.  I did the not-actually-inaudible sigh and shoulder droop that one uses to signify I really don't want to, but I'm too polite to whine.   He said, "Are you busy?"

"I'm not busy," I said, resignedly.  "It's just that I've been busy all day."

"Okay," he replied.  "Let's just do it later."

Suspecting the passive agressiveness with which I would be capable of saying such a thing, I started to go into a no it's okay, really spiel, but he was already walking down the stairs, cheerful as you please.

So I went back to the comfy chair.

About 10 minutes later he was back, and I prepared myself to get up and help out.

"I'm taking the kids to Taco Bell and then Tae Kwon Do," he said.  "See you in a couple of hours."

I think I'm in love.  (With the same guy as always, which is both convenient and miraculous.)

And that's how I wound up on the deck, in the fresh evening air, having half a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream before dinner (!), and then having stir fried kale & carrots, mozzarella with fresh picked basil, and a glass of wine, all by myself.